Well, we’re back from another weekend at the lake and the fun just doesn’t stop. Over the next few paragraphs we’ll be reviewing:
· Terrifying warnings of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning
· Something fan-tastic
· Shoddy electrical work
· Shopping hints
An Alarming Situation
We arrived at the lake house last Saturday morning around 11am – and upon entering were immediately met with a shrieking smoke detector and digitally-recorded audio warnings of “Fire! Evacuate immediately! Carbon Monoxide detected! You have eight seconds left to live… seven seconds… six seconds...” I did what anyone would in that situation – pulled the 9-volt battery out of the offending smoke detector to silence it. However, since this is an interlocking system of three detectors and they run on house current (the battery is there as a fail-safe during power outages), removing the battery only added a new warning to the others: “Low battery power! Someone is fucking with me!” Realizing I’d have to completely shut it down, I removed the cover from the bleating unit and disconnected the white (neutral) wire. That did two things: 1) generated a spark sizable enough to actually ignite the house, and 2) set off a series of echoing cries from the other two interconnected detector-mates: “Power interruption! System integrity compromised! Comrade down! Medic! Where’s that goddam medic? DEFCON One! I don’t think he’s going to make it! Will you make sure his girlfriend gets the letter he wrote her that’s tucked in his battery compartment?”
I then did what anyone would in that situation – read the instruction manual. Based on the symptoms, the likely cause was a malfunctioning unit. The manual advised calling the “24-Hour National Service Hotline” to report the malfunction. I dialed the toll-free number and got – a busy signal. Repeatedly. Over a 20-minute period. Really? They either have too many malfunctioning units or too few inbound phone lines at this company.
Eventually I read through some of the other diagnostic steps and vacuumed in and around the hyperbolic detector, wired it back up and tested the system (resulting in yet another round of shrieking alarms and shouts of “Fire! Carbon Monoxide! Impending Doom!”). That seemed to settle everything down.
(Until 1:00 AM Sunday morning, when the same unit decided the house was on “Fire!” and advised us to run for the hills. I glared at it, and it then decided perhaps it had arrived at a too-hasty conclusion and apologized for waking us. All the units kept their yaps shut for the remainder of the weekend.)
What’s Bugging Me?
After resolving the issue with the smoke detectors, we dove back into ceiling painting and bathroom updating. Applying a new bead of caulk around the tub and shower was Job #1 for me – the previous owner appeared to have suffered the unexpected onset of Parkinson’s when he last handled that task but valiantly kept at it; the old caulk was not so much “applied” as “smeared”. It made for a tiring day, up and down ladders and more exertion than we normally experience while seated on the couch, so after a late dinner we were ready for bed.
Taking turns in the bathroom, I finished first and went upstairs. I turned on the bedside lamp to read while waiting for Carol. After a few minutes she entered the room and exclaimed, “OH MY GOD! LOOK AT THIS!” and pointed at the ceiling. There, attracted by the light, were approximately 5,286 moths, gnats and other winged creatures. We’d placed an a/c unit in the bedroom window temporarily since it was so warm over the holiday weekend, but thinking it wouldn’t be remaining in that room long-term didn’t bother to seal around it. This approach provided only a marginally-daunting challenge to the bugs who wanted to come inside for a visit. We led them out of the bedroom by turning on the hall light and turning off the bedroom light, then going downstairs and turning on the kitchen light and off the hall light and so gradually re-directed the swarm out onto the porch. We went back up to our bedroom, which was now nearly bug-free, and settled back under the covers. Our rest was interrupted only by the 1:00 AM warning of “Fire! Boils! Frogs! Murrain!” from that overly-diligent smoke detector located outside the bedroom.
After that refreshing sleep, we awoke to a sunny Sunday morning and went downstairs for breakfast. As she carried coffee into the dining room Carol exclaimed, “OH MY GOD! LOOK AT THIS!” On the carpet directly underneath an outlet box where we planned to install a ceiling fan was a pile of ants. Dead ants. Which, while we stood there watching, was added to by colony-mates coming out from the overhead opening with fallen comrades in their clutches who were dropped to the floor below.
We vacuumed up the pile and, within minutes, found a new pile taking its place. This activity continued for the remainder of the day. Google informs this is symptomatic of a carpenter ant invasion, so we’ve added “call exterminator” to our punch list. The pile of dead ants is known as a "frass", as in, "What did the frass-hole who sold us this place do to attract so many ants?" While we were initially shocked at the find, the ants’ methodical activity and touching reverence shown for their dead were fascinating. And gross.
Once the ant activity ceased (deceased?), we proceeded to put up a ceiling fan. I'd installed a similar unit in our Cambridge apartment a few years ago -- that job took me two weeks and three hours to complete. Let me explain: I'd gotten 30 minutes into the job and was flummoxed by the instructions, so left the partially-assembled fan hanging from a small hook overhead in our family room for many days until Carol deciphered the directions and got me back on track to then finish the task in another two and a half hours. This time, I noticed the instructions said the job was estimated to take only "120 minutes". Both fans included a remote-control unit, meaning it required wiring up the wazoo to connect the remote receiver to the household circuit and fan/light kit. One of the big challenges with the original installation was gingerly maneuvering the receiver to fit into a space that appeared to be far too small to house it without ripping all the wiring loose. Again – Carol came to the rescue, displaying exceptional manual dexterity and spatial awareness as she firmly shoved it into place.
After carefully wiring all the leads, I flipped to the next page in the instruction booklet, expecting the step where it told you to insert the receiver into the canopy. Instead, the instructions moved on to installation of the light kit, completely skipping what to do with the receiver. Well, that’s one way to make the job an hour shorter… If we hadn’t already been through the same process, that would have been the point at which I’d become flummoxed (perhaps you can tell I am often and easily flummoxed) and the swearing would commence. In all candor, I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to the expletive-laden part of the install.
Carol climbed the ladder and again carefully smashed the receiver into place. I finished securing the canopy and installed the light kit. I placed the battery in the controller, flipped the wall switch, pressed the proper buttons on the remote and – nothing happened. Hooray – my opportunity to swear! Turned out there were two wall switches controlling that outlet and they both needed to be in the correct position for the fan to work. Once we had them aligned, the remote took over: the fan spun rapidly and noiselessly, sending a cooling breeze -- and a spray of ant carcasses -- across the living room.
I’ll Fixture You
By Monday the caulk and bathroom paint were dry and so it was time to install the toilet paper holder and towel bar on the wall, and the light fixture over the sink.
· Toilet paper holder: holes from the previous paper holder don’t line up with the new holder. This means drilling / spackling / repainting.
· Towel bar: holes from the old towel bar are exactly the same distance apart as those required for the new towel bar. Unfortunately, holes for the old bar are aligned horizontally and those for the new bar are aligned vertically. This means drilling / spackling / repainting.
· Light fixture: I now notice that the old light fixture wasn’t connected to an outlet box. Instead, the backing plate to the old fixture had been held in place with one screw driven into a stud, which was apparently sufficient to hold everything in place once assembled. This creates a conundrum with the new fixture, which clearly needs to be screwed to an outlet box in order to secure a center post to which the rest of the fixture is attached. This means carpentry / wiring / drilling / spackling / repainting / lots of swearing.
I thought of suggesting to Carol that, since we now lived right on a body of water, perhaps indoor plumbing wasn’t essential? But then thought better of it.
Hone Shopping Network
When deciding where to purchase home repair/remodeling supplies, people often base their choices on “reviews” or “ratings” or “best of…” lists. Don’t do that – buy ALL the shit you need at whatever outlet is closest to the domicile you are rehabbing. We have receipts for purchases at Home Depot (three different locations), Lowe’s, Ace Hardware, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, T.J. Maxx, Marshall’s, Christmas Tree Shops, Big Lots! (I’m not excited about that one; the “!” is part of their name), Ocean State Job Lot (two locations, neither of which were located in the “Ocean State”), and 3 different furniture stores. We picked Home Depot because their brand of paint is supposed to be “Highest-Rated by a Leading Consumer Publication”. Despite our coverage calculations we’ve been back two additional times to pick up more of the same custom colors (those are just the return trips for paint – I’ve lost count of the total number of trips for everything else). Carol kept saying, “They have a record of the paint we bought.” When I pointed out that no one had ever asked for her: 1) name; 2) phone number; 3) address; 4) SSN, 5) birth date, 6) shoe size or 7) any other identifying information, she reconsidered and thought perhaps we would need to remember which paint we’d decided was “perfect” for which room(s). Two different ceiling paints, 5 different room colors, and who the hell can remember the difference between “eggshell” and “satin” finish? Ace Hardware is closest to our new address; their paint comes in just as many colors as any place else’s and is also “Highest-Rated by a Leading Consumer Publication”. I believe that publication is “Highlights for Children”.
The next time we’re up there – if I see any more ants I’ll cry uncle.